Tynan setting high expectations in Ontario

Photo: Ontario Reign

📝 by Jared Shafran | AHL On The Beat

American Hockey League fans have likely heard this before: T.J. Tynan is a special player with exceptional talent.

But after winning the league’s most valuable player award in an abbreviated 2020-21 campaign, Tynan has taken his elite scoring to a higher level this season. With seven games left on the Ontario Reign’s regular-season calendar, Tynan ― who has a career-high 87 points ― could potentially become the first AHL skater to reach the 100-point mark since Hershey Bears teammates Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux both went over triple digits during the 2009-10 season.

Tynan’s 74 assists are already the most in a single AHL season in the last 15 years, since Darren Haydar posted 81 helpers for the Chicago Wolves in 2006-07. And his average of 1.58 points per game is also a career best.

The amazing thing about Tynan’s performance has been the consistency of his excellence. It’s seemingly every night that he makes a big impact on the game. While he’s obviously had some more memorable outings than others, he’s not scoring in bunches one week and then disappearing the next. Not once has Tynan done enough to be recognized with a Player of the Week award, but it’s every week that he’s contributing to help his team win games.

Tynan has earned multiple points in 29 of the 55 games he’s played in this season. That means when Reign fans watch him play, there’s more than a 50 percent chance they’ll see him set up two or more scoring plays on a given night. With only 13 of his points being goals, it’s even more likely that he’s helping one of his teammates find the back of the net.

Adding that high level of performance to the lineup has translated to a big improvement in the standings for the Reign this season after a sixth-place result a year ago. The team’s points percentage sits at .680 heading into the final three weeks of the schedule, with an opportunity to finish with the highest mark since the first year of AHL hockey in Ontario during 2015-16, when they earned first place in the Pacific Division (.684).

“Every day, T.J. brings it,” said Reign assistant coach Chris Hajt. “Whether it’s practices or games, he has a great work ethic and an intensity about him that shows he wants to win. He wants to be the best player on the ice and do what he can to be outstanding.”

Hajt also added that Tynan’s consistent high expectation of himself and his teammates has raised the bar and kept it high all season. Wearing an “A” on his chest as an alternate captain, Tynan has been part of the team’s leadership group along with captain Brett Sutter and co-alternate Martin Frk, as well as defender Cameron Gaunce.

Now at 30 years of age and playing in his eighth professional season ― which has included over 350 points and spanned 512 games at the NHL and AHL levels ― Tynan sees his individual success as a testament to his teammates, like Frk who has 34 goals while playing on Tynan’s line for most of the season.

“We have a super-talented group and I’ve been fortunate to play with Marty Frk for a lot of it so obviously we’ve meshed well,” Tynan said. “For me, it’s just been the team and how great they’ve been. Especially as a pass-first guy, I’ve just been trying to get guys in good spots to get their shot off and they’ve been doing a great job. There are lots of other guys who are also having great years.”

Tynan’s specialty is the power play, and his influence has made the Reign’s man-advantage unit the top group in the AHL all season long. Among the team’s 63 power-play goals in its 61 games, Tynan has points on 41 of them, which also leads the league. Thirty-nine of those have been assists, which is only a few short of being the most in the league since Chicago’s Jason Krog posted 42 power-play helpers in 2007-08.

“T.J. makes excellent decisions on the power play,” Hajt said. “He’s able to decipher who the open man is and in general, he puts it on the tape I’d say 95 percent of the time. He’s been a big part of our success there for sure.”

As a team, the Reign are challenging the league’s all-time power play percentage mark in a full season, which was set by the Springfield Indians in 80 games during 1993-94 when they finished at 26.78 percent. Ontario is currently just below that high mark at 26.47 percent.

Photo: Andy Hayt

The unit has been successful no matter the personnel combinations that have been used, with parts interchanging due to those that have earned call-ups to the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings. At the start of the season, defenseman Sean Durzi was an important part of the group. Then it was blueliner Jordan Spence who took over the role at the right point in the offensive zone before he received a promotion to the highest level in hockey. Both Tynan and Frk have also earned the call themselves, as well as forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Samuel Fagemo and Gabriel Vilardi.

“We have a lot of talented players,” Tynan said of the Reign’s power play. “For us it’s just been using all of the options; Helge [Grans] and Spenny [Spence] and Wolly [Christian Wolanin] and Durzi, when they’ve been up top they’ve done great… Frk and JAD [Anderson-Dolan] have had great years, Fagemo, Madds [Tyler Madden], Gabe [Vilardi], everyone… Akil Thomas been great.

“When you have that many talented players and you have an extra guy on the ice and you dial in and you just focus on the things you need to do and everyone does their job, it’s usually a recipe for success and so far it’s been that way and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Hajt and the rest of the coaching staff, including assistant coach Craig Johnson who also works with the power play group, have enjoyed observing Tynan and his habits in practice to prepare for upcoming games.

“You just see the intensity in his eyes every day,” Hajt said. “You’re doing a power play at the end of practice and he always wants one more rep, he wants perfection. He’s a real good teammate and he wants to make sure there’s chemistry. For instance, he’ll be working with Helge on their plays that they run on the power play after practice and he’s the one that initiates it. There’s a respect that he has for his teammates and also when we’re not holding up to our standard, he’s vocal about that.”

In order to stay on track for these major milestones and hold their standing in the division, Tynan and the Reign will have keep up their high performance level for the remainder of the season, which includes a trip to the Rocky Mountains next week for a three-game series against Tynan’s former club, the Colorado Eagles.

At the beginning of the month, the third-place Eagles came to Ontario and closed the gap between themselves and the second-place Reign with a sweep of a two-game set, winning 8-1 in game one and 4-3 in overtime the following evening. The Reign will aim to reverse those results and Tynan said he’s looking forward to the challenge of not only playing a tough opponent of which he has familiarity, but also doing it in a hostile environment in Loveland at the Budweiser Event Center.

“I’m still very close with a lot of those guys,” Tynan said of his former Colorado teammates. “They have a great group there and they’ve played really well so the hockey will be fun and it’ll be even better to see some of those guys and their families I haven’t seen in a long time. They pack that place, they’re rowdy and fun so it’ll be great for us… Especially this time of year it’ll get you ready for playoffs real quick. They’re a great team and so are we so those three games will be a lot of fun to be a part of.”